Saturday, July 31, 2021

Maybe Singapore does not deserve you, Joseph Schooling !

I don't have a lot to write about this weekend as I will be reserving my strength for the Dr. Wealth Blog.

What's trending now is are the merciless attacks from keyboard warriors on Joseph Schooling for losing the chance to defend his Butterfly Gold in the Tokyo Olympics and the many folks who jumped to his defence. A couple of famous folks have even commented that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan".

I'm not here to motivate Joseph Schooling to keep trying for us, that's really up to him. It's not like our government gave him a lot of support before he won gold for the country. Sports is not something we'd like to emphasize as a society as compared to, say, private banking. 

Instead, my belief that is that Singapore, in general, does not deserve a sports champion like him. Singapore is too caught up with navel-gazing and envy to sincerely celebrate Joseph Schooling as a fellow countryman. The financial blogosphere is familiar with this kind of saltiness - how many bloggers who accumulated $100,000 before 30 ever escaped getting slammed on social media?

The fact is I'm also a keyboard warrior and I can't tell Joseph Schooling what to do. But I do know that most Singaporeans are hyenas who values strength and success through the Almighty dollar. 

As such, allow me a moment of hubris to say what I would do if I were in Joseph Schooling's shoes.

a) I will complete my NS

This is a good time to complete my NS. 

As the only Gold medallist in Singapore, I'm not likely to be tekaned in camp. I will likely obtain "white horse" status and can even train in sports during this time. I would focus on smaller events like winning a few medals in the SEA games. 

b) I will complete my degree if I have yet to get one. If I have a degree, I will go for an MBA

I suspect that top MBA programs will make way for an Olympic Gold medallist without a high GMAT score.

Youth and energy will fade in time but what remains are your paper qualifications that Singaporeans are obsessed with. As Singapore's only champion, you are highly likely to be able to get assistance on any local campus. The aim is not knowledge but social capital, which will be easy given your superstar status.

Hobnob with the rich, party with them, and occasionally guide their kids in the swimming pools. 

c) I will find a way to get into private banking

If I'm not wrong, DBS has some kind of arrangement with Joseph Schooling such that he will have a great post-sports career. Star power translates very well into front office work, and clients may want direct access to a local champion. Starting salaries will be many times the level of even a top-flight business graduate in Singapore. 

Maybe I can execute the James Lye manoeuvre, where I am VR Man one day and a jet setting banker dealing with UHNWI from all over the world a short moment later. 

Why be a journalist like Clark Kent? This is why VR Man is way better than Superman.

I think if Schooling were to play his cards right, he'll be a middle-aged banker who will become a regular face on the Singapore Tatler. He will probably marry extremely well and, being Eurasian, will be a great pick for politics under the PAP banner. It is very likely Singapore will not see another Olympic gold for another 30-40 years (the last guy was Tan Howe Liang).  

But to play the game right, he needs a decent NS record and a good paper qualification.

As for the bastards who mock him for drinking too much Milo, they will still be bitching on Reddit or EDMW. 

Have fun staying BBFA!


Monday, July 26, 2021

Should we learn a thing or two from Communist China?


The past few days have been quite shocking for political observers who saw some massive moves to mess up education providers and tuition centres in China. The fallout has been very unpleasant for folks who have been harping about Chinese Tech firms for the past year. Starting from today, those voices will soon be silent. Like the US Tech and Cryptocurrency flex bros, everyone will be going back to lick their wounds. 

I have to admit, I'm really enjoying all this. 

While I lost a bit of money here and there, but with over 98% in local stocks and being told repeatedly that Singapore markets sucks, I'm just trying to enjoy this short moment of triumph, but I can't go too far because I was "in the barrel" on March 2020. 

How do we analyse China's move? The willingness to throw their most entrepreneurial and innovative citizens under the bus should be shocking even for the best political analysts. 

There are some signals in hindsight. Lowering birth rates and an ageing population is clearly measurable. I also suspect that the pandemic is creating more inequality and penalises a lot of rural Chinese. The third is a cultural revolution that the CCP is ill-equipped to handle, young Chinese "lying down" in the midst of an involution. 

So cock-blocking tuition centres is a very good move. Parents will always be competitive and want the best for their kids, but if tuition can only take place at specific times of the week, kids can develop their own interests and personalities. Also, middle-class parents do not have to fight a reluctant arms race against upper-crust families. 

I think if Singapore is not careful, we'll have our own brand of involution and instead of "lying flat", many Singaporeans will become Australians. 

Some measures may make sense :

a) Tuition can be reined in without affecting a tutor's livelihood

I delved into household expenditure surveys of 2018 and found that we spend about 5% of our total expenses on education services, which is not so bad so there is no need for a blanket policy to block kids from having tuition. 

But why should we accept 5%?  One possibility would be to block Sundays for tuition centres to cover core subjects and progressively tighten. 

b) Tighten FA licensing requirements

If we are on the topic of current costs for the middle class, might as well analyse my favourite bunch of so-called "professionals". Unfortunately, personal care services and insurance is bundled in the same category but it covers almost 3 times that of education services, so I doubt any heavy firepower will be levelled against FAs over the short term. 

  • But does it make any sense to label what is effectively a sales effort advisory work? 
  • Does it make sense to award titles like MDRT to advisors based on sale volume and not from effective advice?

I don't think we can evolve into a fee-based regime yet, but not insisting on a degree ( in fact a local degree ) to get a license to advise on something so important as money and personal finance is a policy failure on the Government's part! 

This may be a precursor to a fee-based regime in the future. 

c) HDB to function as an exchange to buy and sell the property. 

If you analyse the expenditure of a median household member in Singapore, even I have to admit that the big bad is not the FA but folks in the real estate business. Imputed rental of owner-occupied units is 50% more than the Miscellaneous good category where insurance resides.  

This means that aggressively interfering with real estate markets can move the needle substantially for middle-income Singaporeans and make life better. 

Maybe the government can draw the line that BTOs beyond a particular year has to be bought and sold through HDB via fixed prices. This allows Singaporeans access to cheap housing and prevents excess profits to be earned. Real estate speculation will still be possible for the few elites who can afford private housing. 

The upside is that it's easier to raise families, the downside is that locals can no longer sit on a treasure chest and grow rich purely based on luck. ( We can grow rich on investments rather than property )

If this kills off a few real estate agents so I get less junk mail, all the better.

At the end of the day, I'm just a keyboard warrior running this blog, there are smarter guys looking out for this country. 

Fact is, if a policy intervention tackles tuition, financial planning woes, and real estate simultaneously, the upside is huge for the pockets of the median Singaporean. 

It is also psychologically healthier, parents do not get subject to all that fear regarding their children's future, folks don't get harassed so often walking in malls by FAs handing out LED balloons to their kids, and we will get less junk mail from those pesky real estate agents.

Come to think of it, I can base an entire political manifesto around these three issues. 


Friday, July 23, 2021

JIPABAN - On bad financial advice from Hokkien songs

If you think about it, the MVP this month are the cheekopeks who visited Vietnamese hostesses and brought the entire country down. Things got so bad even the National Day Parade got postponed. 

For weeks, the media attacks against cheekopeks and ah bengs who visited prostitutes escalated so badly, I'm not sure whether it's become cool for Singaporeans to punch down against their less-educated peers. The only exception is that since heterosexual Chinese men are being attacked, liberals sit this one out, and let everyone bash these poor guys.

If there is really one song that captures the feeling of a cheekopek who visit KTV lounges, it is this classic called Jipaban. The song speculates on what like is like as a millionaire. 

As you can find anything on the Internet, a full translation of the song lyrics can be found here.

Like many Hokkien songs, the song had pathos. The singer laments about not amounting to much in life, missing out on travel opportunities, and seeing peers start successful businesses, marrying and settling down.

Let's analyse some of the lyrics to see whether they make financial sense:

a) Travel 

One of the things the lyrics say is that if the signer has a million bucks he will travel. He will go to Hawaii, eat sushi in Japan or have a spaghetti meal in Italy. This is not too expensive for a single guy, a trip to Japan may cost about $3,000 pre-covid and Hawaii/Italy may cost slightly more. 

With $1,000,000 generating $40,000 as safe rate of withdrawal, $1,000,000 can pay for all that travel. 

Of course, somehow this guy must be able to generate this 4%.

b) Buy a car

After travel, things escalate very quickly, the singer wants to buy a car which means paying for a COE. All expenses for a car should range from $1,500 to $2,000 for the next ten years. The worst thing is that the car is a depreciating asset. 

Our cheekopek millionaire should start thinking about driving Grab to offset the costs of having a car, otherwise it will ruin half the investment income arising from the million dollars of invested assets.

Still I think owning a car is not fatal. 

c) Buy a house

Beyond getting a car, it gets much worse, the singer wants to buy a house. 

As most Singaporeans can afford HDB property, I can only speculate that the singer intends to upgrade to a private condominium. Even in the best case, the current HDB has to be sold to generate the downpayment. 

Moving forward, loan repayments can range from $2,500 to $3,500 even for a modest unit which may be unsustainable even with a million dollars . Our cheekopek friend may intend this to be a short project, selling it to earn a profit after MOP period is over and maybe earning some money in the process.  

It's not a bad idea, but I still think just upgrading to a 5 room or a jumbo should suffice.

d) Buy a shop to collect rent

It's heartwarming to find at least one piece of good advice in the song. 

Buying a shop to collect rent is wise but hard. I did a quick check on Property Guru to see whether there are units for sale at Beauty World and many will bust the $1,000,000 budget but loans should cover up to 80% of the value of the property. There is at least one shop in Katong Shopping centre for less than $1,000,000, so this may suit the singer's budget. This will still will likely be cash-flow negative as the mortgage is over $3,000 per month. 

I still think that REITs are less complicated and a safer choice.

e) Get a wife

I leave this last bit for readers to think whether our cheekopek would be able to find a wife even with a million dollars. I'm personally not optimistic given what I know about Singapore women ( In fact, I married Malaysian ). The cruel reality is that $1,000,000 represents financial capital and not social or cultural capital.

He can, of course, go to Vietnamese bride agency. Not sure whether they are in operation today.

Sadly for everyone, a song like Jipaban has not aged well. It was written in 2001 and inflation has ravaged the value of having a million dollars. Thanks to globalisation, inequality has gotten even worse as $1 million may not be able to bridge the lack of social and cultural capital in Singapore. Finally, there are too many forces conspiring to make our friend part with his money through commissions and sexual favours that will allow him to maintain his millionaire status for very long.

Maybe the singer can update the song into "Ngerng Pa Ban" or Two Million dollars. This should provide a higher quality of life for Cheekopek.

For me, I think a simple life of travel, funded by REIT dividend payouts is good enough.


Monday, July 19, 2021

Who still believes in a meritocracy these days?

Sometimes, I get the privilege of being invited by younger bloggers, entrepreneurs or influencers for breakfast. Being exposed to their ideas update me on what's really going on because as I get older, I stop doing stuff younger and single people do. Becoming an investment trainer also limits me to a more conscientious and ambitious crowd, so there is always run the risk of losing touch with the ground. 

My recent conversation is with an up and coming "media mogul". Our political leanings are almost diametrically opposite. He seems to think that government should take more responsibility for things while I prefer to blame fellow citizens for society's ills. Nevertheless, it was a really fun conversation that was very informative for me.

The most interesting segment was our discussion on meritocracy and I was curious what young people feel about meritocracy today. 

My friend's experiences were interesting. He obviously has many elite friends and he shared with me that in the top secondary schools, discussion and conversation is no longer about capabilities and grades. In the top branded schools like RI, ACS and even Hwa Chong, students often spoke of their lineages. What kind of families do they come from. Which exclusive housing estates do they live in. 

I felt that this was very different from my experiences growing up because, in the 1980s, only ACS was like this.

We both come from the more Vanilla-flavoured JCs in Singapore. I came from NJC and my friend came from TJC. 

What my friend shared with me is that the only folks who still believed in a meritocracy came from the second tiered JCs like NJC, TJC and VJC. These institutions are the only ones where folks believed in hard work ( we acknowledge that we have no choice because we're not as smart as the RJC and HCJC students and we don't have the unlimited expenses accounts of ACJC students, working hard is the only thing we can do to shift the odds in our favour. )

This is, sadly, reflected in our career choices. When I was in the private sector, folks from my JC were not so easily found. JC alumni were rare in IT during the days where CECA got freshly signed. With competition coming, IT was not a smart move if an engineer wants to enter the middle class. 

However, when I took the plunge into a disastrous foray into the public sector all my seniors from NJC were waiting there to manage me. 

My boss even had the same Computer Science tutor as me in JC. ( Computer Science majors in JC were super rare )

Was it inspiring to work for an organisation managed by my own kind?

Actually, it was horrible.

In the private sector ( Specifically P&G ), I can at least say that for once in my life, I aspired to become something like my boss. Good pay, upper-middle-class condo living with a loving family.

My public sector management was shit. 

Rumour was that someone I had a reporting relationship with was a divorcee who so traumatised his wife, she became a nun. 

A bag of dead otters, freshly beaten to death with a stick, had more personality than him. 

I think I'm a fairly good public speaker who created a course that generated over $1,000,000 in revenues, so I should know a thing or two about Powerpoint presentations. My boss made me memorise a 15 minute presentation and micro-managed the process to his exact wording. That's where my taxpayers were going. 

It's not a joke that the public sector is full of divorced, mid-career loser beta-males and single women who are waiting for your company until the dread of night. It helps to visit Glassdoor before making a decision whether you really want an iron rice bowl. 

This is not a discussion on whether a meritocracy works, I'm a semi-strong believer in meritocracy provided it's powered by low taxes and some amount of personal risk-taking. 

But my conversation with my friends has reminded me of the cult of brainwashed MBTI ISTJ compliance types that run our monolithic public services who are fanatics of the meritocratic system.

Philip Yeo would go on to label these types of executives eunichs.

The real tragedy is realising we took the same training and we are cut from the same cloth.

Some amount of self-loathing will ensue...




Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Maybe Singaporeans should just lie flat and give up on their ambitions ?


We're seeing a lot of bloggers talk about "Lying Flat" movement which goes to show how much traction this idea has. This is going to be a discussion on how to actually execute it in Singapore.

The basic idea behind the movement is to just give the middle finger to your dreams and ambitions and give up, not so much to preserve your mental health but as a protest against society. There is a certain hint of privilege behind this movement as folks who can live with their parents have a huge leg up as they do not need to pay any rent, nevertheless, some government data can assist us in designing this lifestyle.

a) Model the expenses of a retiree

The first step we need to do would be to model the expenses of a retiree. Fortunately, I've already done this research that resulted in a Dr. Wealth article I wrote on what happens to retiree's expenses when they get older. (Link is here

If you spend like an ordinary person in a HDB household ( not counting rent ), you will need $1,627 a month which is not really conducive to lying down. A more reasonable expenses target would be $1,154 which is a median retiree's expenses per head. I suspect to meet these, you have to forego bulk of your entertainment and really go BBFA, focus all your effort playing computer games and stream movies.

So let's impute $1,154 as monthly expenses.

b) Model the earnings of a food delivery driver 

The second step is to figure out how you can earn $1,154 per month. I've decided that the lifestyle should not invest because we'd just end up with another bland flavour of FIRE. Whoever lies flat would still have to work for it, albeit the work would be really minimal.

So the work that gives the worker the most control is the gig economy and fortunately, Seedly has a great article on delivery riders here. If you read the article, a reasonable salary would be $600 a week, but it is 40 hours of back-breaking work. Furthermore, you would still have to contribute to Medisave, which can take out 4-8% of your earnings. Take out 5% in our example and your take-home is about $570 a week. 

c) Now lie flat like you owe nothing to society

So with a top-line and bottom-line established, we know that two weeks of food delivery work at 80 hours will subsidise a month of expenses at $1,154, so the default position is that to lie down sustainably, you will be working about 50% of the time compared to average Singaporeans - a 20 hour workweek.

This is not exactly something I'd like because I work way less than that in real life thanks to FIRE.

But there are obviously ways to improve that ratio. 

One is to lie down so much that you spend less than a median retiree in Singapore. If you can miraculously live on $600 a month (possibly by dumpster diving), then you would only be working 25% of the time. If you can find a short and interesting gig at rates higher than $15/hour (like becoming a sugar baby) then you can relax even harder.

Therefore, a sugar baby who does food delivery and dumpster dives occasionally might be the iconic symbol of the "Lying Flat" movement in Singapore. 

If such a person does not exist, maybe we should invent someone like that. 


Saturday, July 10, 2021

How to "travel" when you are stuck at home.


First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for their well-wishes. My mum is doing well.

But it has still been a tough week and I really needed to unwind which means do stuff that is less consequential but to relax and improve my quality of life. 

One of the things I miss the most is travel. I don't do expensive travel. Most of the time I just go to KL to do some shopping and lots of eating. I recently heard that my favourite Sang Har Mee place at Lorong Imbi has shut down ( or moved ). I feel sad that some of my favourite haunts may not even be around when Singaporeans can visit Malaysia again.

So right now I am stuck in Singapore. The closest thing I can do to travel is to read Koh Buck Song's Around the World in 68 Days. I like it because it covers countries that I will probably not get to within my lifetime like Oman and Madagascar. More interestingly, it's not just a real travel guide but also a book on how countries can rebrand themselves. So it looks like my reads are still consequential after all. 

Of course, reading about a location cannot possibly replicate the real travel experience, so I try to supplement what I read with youtube videos. 

This is one of my favourite videos on Oman because there are plenty of references to street food. My wife and kids are huge fans of food vlogger Sunny. 

Youtube has plenty of videos that can be helpful to folks who need some travel therapy. One of my favourites has always been the Middle East because I doubt I will ever find a travel buddy to go there. Even if I do, I'm terrified of diarrhoea. A friend who has been to Egypt tells me that he had diarrhoea for almost his entire trip. 

Visiting a souk on Youtube is soothing and does not affect the quality of your bowel movements. If you actually want the diarrhoea experience, you can always eat McCrispy meal which checking out this wonderful walking tour.

I don't have grand travel plans once Singapore becomes fully vaccinated. My first priority is to visit relatives in the North and do something to support the Malaysian economy. 

A student wants to visit to see if he should buy a GCB there. I just want to kaypoh a bit and eat the zhi char there. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Some Thoughts on Managing Family Health


This was one of the toughest weeks of my life. 

Let me start with a legendary tale of our Unions. 

There was an urban rumour that once upon a time, a union leader with NTUC had health problems and went for a heart scan. He discovered blockages in his veins and promptly resolved them with an angiogram followed by an angioplasty where a stent was installed to resolve the blockage. After the operation was over, the union leader hectored all his union drinking buddies to take the scan. After all, they had the same unhealthy habits. The other leaders went, albeit reluctantly as the scan was expensive. But quite a few union leaders also discovered they had blockages and promptly had operations to save their lives. Many lives were saved by this union leader, I did not share his name as the person who related the story to me was also not clear who he was.

When my mum had high blood pressure for an umpteenth time, I also decided to take her medical matters into my own hands. The sad truth is that I don't really trust GPs because they often had 5 minutes to determine what was your problem. So I switched over to a cardiologist in the private sector to take control of managing my mum's hypertension. The cardiologist improved her average BP reading from 200 to <120 with the new drug. Not satisfied, I wanted to break the family curse so I insisted my mum take the Heart CT Scan as well and blew thousands of dollars of family funds on it.  Unfortunately or fortunately for us, the scan detected a major blockage so my mum had to complete an angiogram and angioplasty yesterday. 

Today she is resting at home after a successful operation.

On hindsight, I really have no idea what her GP was doing. She always had BP medicine but she had a special drug to eat when her BP spikes. The GP's approach was a quick fix without delving into the root cause of the issue. It was only pulling strings and asking one of my students for help (he works in healthcare) was I able to be introduced to a good cardiologist who could make the problem disappear.

Anyway, this is just one data point but I'd like to raise two lessons I learnt for readers.   

The first lesson was that "advisor equity" matters. 

I can walk into the sunset and FIRE, but teaching my program allows me to network with my students, many with useful information and contacts that can enhance other areas in my life. On top of my work as a trainer, I have doctor friends who regularly ask me for stock information over Whatsapp who can easily spare a second or two with medical opinions on pricing information I share with them. Even though I do not practice law, I do act as the first point of contact for friends in trouble and can introduce someone currently in practice. In fact, I play rainmaker to my lawyer buddies. 

If you think you can "Tang Ping" or lie down after you FIRE, then you are losing a major resource. Most successful FIRErs know a bit about markets that can make them very useful to others. 

The second lesson was that a sufficiently large investment hoard can function as a health and surgical plan.

I could not get H&S insurance for my mum even if I wanted to because she had hypertension her whole life. Going through an angioplasty in a private hospital is going to be extremely pricey even if you took the cheapest suite like us at Gleneagles. Predictably, my mum had a rude shock when she heard about the price. 

When I heard the price tag, I calmly told my mum about the lifetime of savings she and my late dad made when they DID NOT PAY H&S insurance. This was a proactive surgery made while my mum was healthy, we can reduce the risk of complications. More importantly, the savings over my father's lifetime allowed the full sum to be replenished with only 3 months of dividend payouts! 

So we are trading three months of dividends for an unknown but significant extension of my mother's life. My mum's blockage was actually 90%, all this while she was living on borrowed time. 

In the end, even Medisave came to my rescue when my mum went private, it was not much but it was better than nothing.  

Anyway, the money spent on health will recover in time, my family will obviously be very careful when we re-accumulate our lost income over the next three months. Just like Singapore reserves, we will never know when we will need it again in the future so best be prudent. 

( Readers who need an introduction to a cardiologist can email me in private. I did not share details on costs and billings, but I guarantee smart readers can figure it out with the info I shared )


Sunday, July 04, 2021

So what if you are right?

The heightened alert phase has been much tougher than the circuit breaker. The circuit breaker came with more government support so everyone was more or less on the same page. HA has been less taxing fiscally but it was more demoralising as we were unable to have a drink at the nearest coffee shop. F&B was almost thrown to the dogs and there was no moratorium on mortgage loans. 

To be fair, I thrived during HA fiscally, but with less fiscal support from the government, I see a lot more unhappiness on social media and chat rooms. Every day Singaporeans are really hurt by this second lockdown.
  • We should not have open our legs to foreigners.
  • Hawker centre rents should not have gone up!
  • Singapore should side with China and go against the US!
There are times when everyone becomes an armchair policymaker. That cannot be helped because they are literally on their arm-chairs the whole day. 

I always find some kind of mental exercise to cope with these folks, many are friends and many getting crankier by the day.

Ask them one question: 

So what if you are right?

Unless you are direct this question to Lawrence Wong, even if the other is right, nothing ever happens. Almost all of us are subject to government policies and our government is too effective for much change to take place at the ballot box. 

A large part of these assertions are "normative" in nature - someone is pontificating about what ought to be true in Singapore society. This is always in opposition as to what actually holds true in Singapore.  Lawyers love thinking about what ought to be because they are often spared the consequences of real legal and economic reform. Of course, we want less inequality, but who will pay the taxes in this imaginary society?

In my business, I do my best to ask myself this question if I am called upon to make a prediction. 

We've done a session with Dr Wealth yesterday and I was asked to suggest one stock for the Dr Wealth portfolio yesterday. Dr Wealth's skin in the game was $10,000 on my selected stock, and it's not in my nature to see my business partner lose money on a prediction I made. So when I was planning my slides, I matched that $10,000 in an x2 leveraged account on that stock so that I can share the pain if my prediction underperforms.   

If anyone asks me so what if I am right, there are fiscal consequences mapped to the accuracy of my predictions. 

If I am right I stand to gain x2. If I am wrong I lose x2 as well. 

Last year, I was the only trainer who actually bet big on a V-shaped recovery with an actually x2.4 leveraged account bet. I was hoping no one remembered that but some folks remembered that and yelled it out in the chat room during the seminar. 

So this year, I'm more worried that someone will plough 100% into my prediction which some trolls have been spreading on social media.

Before you do this, I want to remind everyone that I also said that England will never win the European Cup two articles ago and England not only thrashed my favourite team Germany and has entered the semi-finals.  

Anyway, it's going to be a tough week personally for me starting Monday. 

This blog will resume after Wednesday when I give you guys a personal update. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Are we overproducing elites in Singapore ?

Some folks have protested that I am duplicitous when it comes to degrees. 

Diploma holders of my generation do fairly well and many end up in senior management. However, for Millenials and Gen Z, I take a dim view of folks who proudly proclaim to drop out from an academic program. Life choices aside, they have no idea how much they damage their personal brands because only the most privileged folks can survive not having a degree.

Population census 2020 explains this in greater detail. I was able to calculate the percentage of degree holders based on different generations of Singaporeans.

If you examine my cohort ages 45-49, only 41% had degrees. Mathematically, you can live your life without a degree and yet signal above-median level intelligence and conscientiousness. 

If you examine the batch 10 years younger now aged 35-39, 54% have degrees. The reverse is now true concerning non-degree holders, if you drop out, you are signaling possibly below-median intelligence and conscientiousness. Of course, don't get upset with what I say because signaling does not mean that it is fact, but employers and HR departments will begin to tighten restrictions and you'll find many jobs that do not require degrees actually listing a degree as a requirement. 

But that's not the most disturbing thing about these statistics. 

Richard Turchin studies cliodynamics and he concludes that the overproduction of elites was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire and the American Civil War. When we overproduce degree holders, especially lawyers, not every degree holder will be able to get a decent job upon graduation. You can find the ramifications of that in the article here.

The US is in a much more serious condition than Singapore, not every lawyer who passes the bar exam in the US gets to practice. Singapore is also dealing with a flood coming not from local universities but overseas. We're also seeing a lot of younger local graduates fighting cultural wars imported from overseas. About a week ago, a friend showed me how his contemporaries from the humanities have accused him of not doing enough for the woke agenda, even resorting to personal attacks to make their point. This is an early sign of a bifurcation of elites, where the elites who cannot get a decent position in society starts to fight against the status quo and society polarises and can't gain consensus moving forward.

By looking at these numbers, it is quite convenient to simply tell the government to reduce university intake. But that is a problem because the wealthy will buy their degrees from Australia or the UK anyway. Furthermore, it is not politically viable to tell Singaporeans to accept joining the workforce with a diploma when you allow the floodgates to open to foreigners and not audit the quality of their degrees. 

Fortunately for me, it's not my paygrade to propose a solution. 

I hope Minister Chan will think of something that can work for everyone.

If I have free rein, I will first get our Polytechnics certified by foreign bodies to get diplomas the same recognition as a degree overseas rather than build Tier 2 universities. It's just a waste of the student's time to keep them in school any longer than necessary.

I will also have a white list of universities in emerging economies that will consider these degrees equivalent to local degrees with minimum grades.  For the whitelist to have any meaningful effect, the inflow of foreign talent must be controlled and cannot go back to the levels of the Goh Chok Tong administration. 

Moving forward, citizens may have to live with a licensing regime for everything. A lot more forms of blue-collar work can only be performed by licensed individuals in Singapore so as to allow non-degree holders a decent quality of life. 

For a start, as much as it hurts our competitiveness,  maybe HR Managers should be the exclusive domain of Singapore citizens. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

More DeFI shenanigans...


From the past two days, I lost another $100 USD from the drop in ETH's value which means that this is the time to get deeper into the rabbit hole. 

Losing money this way is not really new to me because I used to get bashed up (metaphorically)  in gaming arcades. Playing Street-Fighter II was hard when you have to go toe to toe with Ah Beng's twice your age, but I found that I  tend to do better with aggressive fighters that have simpler and more basic moves so I settled with Blanka, the green beast from Brazil. Blanka's basic moves are already quite fast and lethal. Furthermore, if he gets cornered, he can launch electrical attacks. Many Ah Bengs were defeated when I randomly jumped around and zapped their more handsome fighters with electrical attacks. Half of the time I don't even know what I was doing, but I really did enjoy zapping a more handsome fighter like Ryu, Ken or Guile.  

So I made more rookie mistakes today. 

As I tried to extricate my coins from Compound, I ran out of gas and has to buy $100 of ETH to fill up my wallet. This took me a while to solve. My first rookie lesson is to always leave about $15 of ETH in my wallet. 

To dig myself deeper into the rabbit-hole, the first thing I tried to do was to get into TokenSet to get my ETH into some kind of robo-fund. I felt that algorithms that employ RSI to trade between ETC and BTC should be fairly interesting and can grow my coins over time. Sadly, the fund is no longer open to new investments. In fact, How to Defi is already obsolete as I can't find any fund that they used in the example from the book.

Disappointed, I dug into the book further to see whether I could get into the derivatives markets and found a website called Synthetix. To start playing with derivatives, the process was extremely convoluted.

First I converted my ETH into a shitcoin called SYX. Then I had to go to to mint some sUSD which sounds suspiciously like a stable coin. My $177.75 value only allowed me to get $39.50 of sUSD. My only consolation is that the system claims that I am earning almost 40% yields on my staked value which does not make me feel very good because it feels like buying a subscription stream of hell banknotes with real money from the nearest heartland shop that sells items for worship. 

Still, I was quite elated as I managed to get my sUSD, I was hoping to get some iDEFI which allows me to bet against assorted shitcoins in the crypto world.

Sadly, as of today, all of the inverse derivatives have been frozen so I can't take up a short position at all. 

So this is the state I am currently in. 

Right now, I can't seem to unstake my sUSD nor claim my SYX.

I really have no idea how crypto bros can claim their stake as part of their personal balance sheet but what I hell do I know right, I only know how to randomly jump across the screen like Blanka.  

Hopefully, something interesting will happen in the next epoch wchich will be in about 4 days time. So maybe I will be able to unlock some features after that. 

What I do know though, is that if your crypto adventures are paid by REIT dividends, it's a fun way to keep your current with developments. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

My Rookie DeFi moves.


I promised myself that once the crypto market crashes, I will get into playing some DeFi. Previously, I had $50 of ETH in my wallet. It eventually reached $2,000 as I bought XRP, BNB, BTC and RUNE but now all of it has crashed to about $1,200 so it is time to do something new.

So I read CoinGecko's fairly short book How to Defi and I started making some Defi moves about 30 minutes ago. 

Here's what I did:

a) On, I consolidated all my shitcoins to ETH. 

b) I created a new Metamask wallet and it's quite cool as it embeds on Chrome. So once the wallet was built, I transferred all my ETH to the wallet.

c) I immediately connected my new wallet to Compound which allowed me to get some investment income from my ETH.

So in less than 30 minutes, I am getting a 0.43% interest rate on my ETH deposit.

Ok, this probably will not impress the Crypto bros who claim to get yields of 30+% a year but I'm a slowpoke and prefer to spend more time reading more books. How to Defi is good but I hope that more publications will follow.

Some things do bother me about this brave new world. I can probably get better yields if I convert my ETH to DAI but wouldn't that be the same as converting SGD to MYR to get better interest rates? Also while the mining of BTC is limited, entire new blockchains can be created by programmers so scarcity is questionable. 

The next time I get bored, I will be parking my crypto into a fund management house such as TokenSets. My preferred approach is to find a trend trading strategy and dump all my crypto into it and see what happens next.

Right now I probably have better odds losing all my crypto than making $10,000, but I think folks my generation should develop a more open mind about DeFi. The genie is already out of the bottle and you can't kill crypto anymore. 

Some use cases make a lot of sense because I can't imagine not dumping all my Argentinian cash into Crypto if I genuinely want to preserve my wealth. The speed at which money can move from wallet to wallet was also ridiculously efficient compared to banking a cheque with DBS. 

We'll see how this goes!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Better qualitative investing with Anthropology


Before I talk about investing, let's talk about racism in Singapore. 

My personal opinion is that we have been too hasty trying to cancel racist polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee. There are thousands of Tan Boon Lee's in Singapore, some who can conceal their tracks better than others. Authorities should go with a lighter hand but work with cultural anthropologists to understand the institutions that enable this to happen in the first place. I was tactically ignored on social media when I inquired about Tan's secondary school even though I know that I may have struck a nerve as I did some googling of the schools that celebrity racists like Sharon Au and Dennis Chew have come from. To me, it was not accidental that Tan Boon Lee eventually made a living teaching object-oriented programming in a Polytechnic. A lot of Chinese-speaking Singaporeans turned to study engineering in the 80s to earn a middle-class lifestyle because it was the only professional path that can tolerate poor English proficiency.  Tan Boon Lee's labelling of a minority dating a Chinese girl as racists seems to come up from some subconscious "object-oriented code" that inherited itself from some racist firmware that was installed in him but subtly overloaded with his own ideas when he was much younger. 

But I will not digress further, Anthropology is the qualitative study of human beings. 

A Singaporean tribe that does not mix with minorities even after 50 years of independence should be an interesting sub-culture to understand. Anthropologists can interview them, live among them to understand their media influences, favourite institutions and personal narratives. Then using data analytics developed by Cambridge Analytica, we can figure out their OCEAN personality profiles and develop a means to target racists even before a single external expression of racism can manifest. I like to christen this a Majority Report. There are plenty of community centres where we can set up "re-education camps" where we can ply them with Thosai and Mee Rebus to blunt the racism.

I think my solution can deal with racism much better than coming up with a rap video to threaten fellow Singaporeans. 

Anthro-Vision by Gillian Tett felt more like a reaction towards the rejection of humanities ( thanks to big data and data science ) than promoting what anthropology can do for businesses, but it is a wonderful addition to an investor's arsenal. As someone who employs a lot of quantitative models, I see them fail fairly often but wonder what needs to be captured if we are interested in qualitative considerations. Anthropology shows us why this is a very broad problem that cannot be cracked easily.

I have only one example to share on this blog.

Office REIT investors are worried about work from home and they are sure whether Office REITs have come down in price to justify an investment. Accounting numbers don't really help because we don't have an idea whether folks will be forced back to the office.

Amazingly anthropology provides some hints. Offices promote two things to workers that no amount of accounting knowledge would provide.

The first is sense-making. What does it mean to be a worker for a company? You can only derive meaning from your work by observing your managers, speaking some lingo, and dressing up like them. Doing so puts you in a physical or social environment called a habitus. As such, landlords are not simply giving you some square foot of space for rent. Enabled by MNC tenants, landlords provide habitus for a fee. If everyone works from home, you have to confront the fact that it is harder to transmit corporate culture to workers. 

The second is informal information exchange. If you manage a tribe of programmers who do better when left alone, then WFH may become a better default. But if you have a proprietary trading team, a lot of informal information exchanges occur that can positively improve trading returns. So in such a case, programming teams can decamp to their homes but traders should rush back to the office as soon as possible. 

For these two points raised, I can begin to be more bullish on office REITs as investors are more likely to overestimate the impact of WFH on office REITs. 

The higher dividends may not last.   

One thing I really like about work is that the author was very eager to shine the anthropological lens on themselves. Folks who study anthropology are the hippies of the academic world and would not want to work with corporations or even the government. I observe similar levels of antiestablishment in Singapore. 

So good luck getting anthropologists to work with financial analysts to cherry-pick Office REITs.

I can imagine these woke Gen Z anthropologists throwing up when I propose building a racist detection algorithm that can take a FB profile and calculate the probability of their racism. So far, they'd rather eat an avocado sandwich and watch a Preetipls video than actually solving the racism problem with Big Data. 




Friday, June 18, 2021

Think twice before paying for a business degree

The Department of Statistics has recently published the latest census on the Singapore population and it is a treasure trove of data that can be used to inform us what is the best move for folks seeking a basic or advanced qualification. 

Inspired by an article in the Business Times a few days ago, I tried to tabulate the number of degree holders corresponding to the field of study and track changes from 2010 to 2020.

Here are my results :

I'm going to share my personal insights from the data, feel free to disagree and comment below:

a) It is better not to pay for a business degree

There is clearly an increase in business degree holders over the past 10 years, so it's better to avoid getting into a Red Ocean situation by also getting another one. Unless you can get into the Honours program in NUS Bizad or at least a Cum Laude from SMU which still leads to fairly high paying MNC jobs, it will be really hard to distinguish yourself from masses of business graduates. 

I think this is even more so if you are a private degree graduate. You will be discriminated against twice - once for having a private degree and once more for studying a business qualification.

Also, you should take care before signing up for an MBA. They will be a dime a dozen. Still, I consider INSEAD MBA the Rolls Royce of MBAs because not only must you speak three languages, now they require proficiency in Python Programming. 

b) Demand for humanities qualifications seems immune to practical considerations. This is enough reason to avoid going for one unless you are extremely talented.

Over 10 years, we've seen such advances in technology and we've even beaten reduced the number of foreign competition in Tech, yet humanities and arts education has not experienced reduced demand. While I can't recall the research paper in the US, an academic said that interest in the humanities is in fact very "human" and demand to study this field comes from natural interest that cannot be dampened by practical considerations. 

In reality, a humanities education has become more expensive relative to the employment and salary outcomes over the past ten years but you continue to see plenty of demand to become a humanities scholar. 

If you want to thrive in such a field, passion is not enough. You need to combine passion and proficiency. If you become the kind of Arts grad that is non-Honours and can't find a place in academia, better start prepping for the CMFAS or CEA exams.

c) If you are moderately good in Maths, why not go for a STEM degree?

I can sort of understand the dip in Engineering degrees in Singapore. Younger Singaporeans don't trust that the government will not flood the country with foreign technical talent. But the era has changed and technology salaries are at an all-time high. Worse, now we evidence that Singaporeans are so spoilt no one wants to pick free money from the ground. 

The only barrier is a mathematical ability which might require some genetics. I think folks, in general, avoid heavy maths courses. If you push yourself through after biting the bullet, there is much less competition moving forward. 

Furthermore, nothing stops someone with a STEM degree from competing in the business field. If you end up becoming one of those useless engineers that might build a collapsing bridge, you can still fake it by becoming a project manager. If you suck at tracking projects and speaking to people, you can still take CMFAS and CEA later. 

Before I end, I'd like to address the copious amounts of literature that celebrate the importance of generalist skills as compared to specialist knowledge. I read almost every book on generalist skills like Range by David Epstein but I would not put so much weight on this message as they seem to be perpetrated by academics who know that their value in the industry is waning in the face of data analytics and AI. The fact in Singapore from Census 2020 is that the number of generalists is rising for the past 10 years compared to specialists and consequently. at the personal level, you may want to develop a narrow niche of tech skills to juice more money for your investments. 

But their message that specialists would need more generalist skills is not wrong. You'll still need to be politically savvy and present your ideas cogently. 

But these humanities academics are better off encouraging their students to pick up more marketable tech skills rather than harping on Critical Race Theory and why they don't have a sinecure because of capitalism.   


Monday, June 14, 2021

"Lying Flat" as a continuum of responses to the stresses of modern living

This blog has commented on China's Cultural Involution in the past. ( link )

The hottest idea arising out of Chinese society is the concept of "Lying Flat" which has gained so much traction the Community Party is now viewing this philosophy as something that can destabilise their society and has begun washing off groups that allow adherents to this philosophy to fester in Chinese social media. 

This idea arose from young Chinese's frustrations with an unreasonable job market and the lack of social mobility. It's not fun qualifying for a top university in China only to see the best jobs reserved by peers who come from richer families. So the collective response is to simply lie flat and do the bare minimum to get by. 

There are three components to this "Lying Flat" lifestyle :
  • Don't advance in life, do not buy a car or house, do not get married and do not have kids.
  • Maintain a minimum standard of living
  • Refuse to be exploited as a slave or be part of someone's money-making machine.
If you look at this from the perspective of the Chinese, this idea can really gain traction given that the gender ratio is so pronounced in this country, most men really have no choice but to stop trying to start families. Once a guy makes that decision, the second and third leg of the lifestyle is easily attained with plenty of online entertainment and gig economy jobs.

I daresay that this can be really liberating.

In Singapore, we sort of know that our variant of "Lying Flat" is embedded in our BBFA ( Bui Bui Forever Alone )  lifestyle. Once they convince themselves they are Forever Alone, adopting a minimum standard of living, watching Netflix, and playing games is a cinch. 

Still, I think that Singapore's situation is not as bad as China as Singapore guys can find foreign spouses if they get rejected by local women and there are career paths that can lead to great wealth without the need for advanced degrees like becoming a commissioned FA or selling real estate. 

What's interesting about Lying Flat is that you can arrange these lifestyle philosophies in a continuum :

At the highest octane level is the "Tiger Mum's Dream Life" where someone collects the best qualifications to decorate their resumes, launch ambitious careers or businesses and end up in the pinnacle of Singapore society. This is otherwise called the Singapore Dream and can live on so long as there is social mobility.

FIRE's (Financial Independence and Retire Early) different levels are next, where you adopt the minimalist doctrine but do not mind being exploited so that you can become financially independent later. The FAT FIRE acolytes are not too far from those wanting to live the Singapore Dream, but the Coast FIRE guys are really very different - they just want some form of escape like the BBFA. 

Below Coast FIRE is the massive population of indifferent Singaporeans who think that England has a chance at this year's Euro Cup and would want to know the best place to queue for a BTS MacDonald meal. If life happens, it happens. Meanwhile, let's watch K-Drama.

Below that is the BBFA. BBFA living is not as defeatist as Lying Flat because BBFA dudes are still very active in finance forums and EDMW flexing crypto trades and behaving as disagreeable as their anonymity allows them to. BBFAs will advance up the spectrum if they luck out via a crypto trade or an inheritance. I expect these bros to be very in your face when they succeed. 

This puts Lying Flat is at the bottom of the spectrum where adherents actually develop a philosophy to counter what they perceive as a social and economic injustice. It is just to live the bare minimum and put up a middle finger against all of life's injustices. 

As we move down the continuum, we move from Siao Onz to Indifference to Anti-Establishment. 

Readers should make an informed decision as to where there are in this continuum. 

There is no right answer.

( Except the part on England winning the Euro Cup. England will never win the Euro cup in our lifetime. I don't watch football, and even I know that. )

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Letter to Batch 21 of the Early Retirement Masterclass


Dear Students of Batch 21,

It’s been a great honour and privilege to be able to conduct a 2-Day Early Retirement Workshop for you.

We had a class within a month of the last programme because we knew that demand for investment classes typically spike when a lockdown occurs. Having a lesson a month after the last one can be pretty instructive to the programme as we can see how dynamic ERM portfolios are even when conducted after a short period.

For one thing, I deliberately made Batch 21 is a lot more aggressive than Batch 20, and I very much prefer to add some growth stocks into the mix for your voting pleasure as vaccinations rates go up in Singapore. Unlinked cases have also stayed low at single-digit levels.

The class was a lot more freeform this time round as a fintech stock mentioned by a student was included last minute in the selection process and was even voted democratically into the portfolio. I would expect this counter to bring a certain level of excitement (or tragedy) into what Batch 21 has created.

Also, this is the first time we’ve deviated from our portfolio construction rules where we introduced a non-REIT into the REIT portfolio. So I’m glad the class accepted the controversial decision and justification as to why this developer might behave like a REIT for the next decade.

Students can examine the portfolio in its glory and note that increasing trend for the agglomerated stocks. If this were a technical analysis class, the chart itself should be screaming a solid buy as the regime chart is coloured green. Past five years, backtest of this portfolio generated 19% returns with a merely semi-deviation of 14%.

Lastly, I hope that Batch 21 would participate actively in the FB group. I should see all of you in the flesh in mid-July, and we will have another round of revisions then.

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Friday, June 11, 2021

[Video] Singapore vs Overseas Investing

Dr. Wealth staff took a long time to edit and launch this video because initially, we thought that the material was too abstract for retail investors. Nevertheless the material is out and I hope that you guys enjoyed it.

If I met Alvin Chow in a Woodlands kopitiam to discuss the business and latest portfolio moves, the discussion would be similar in nature anyway and nothing here has been scripted.

I will be doing another video next week with another Dr Wealth trainer. Hope that you guys will continue to support me.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

On Business Cycles


I'm in the middle of another class this week and for the past week, I've been trying to crack one of the best books ever written on market cycles. Lars Tvede clearly hit the ball right out of the park with his bible Business Cycles and I strongly urge serious investors to read this book as it is clear and actually gives the reader a chance to quantitatively chart the business cycle if they can have access to economic data.

This book is extremely broad and covers the history of myriad attempts at defining the cycle as well as what is experienced for investors on the ground. My only regret is that it is impossible to summarise the book for my students. 

I probably need a few months to engineer a tool to create a business cycle for Singapore. 

A few useful lessons I picked up from the book :

a) It's not one cycle, but at least three cycles working in tandem

The best way to understand business cycles is that it is a combination of at least three different processes. The Kitchen's cycle is based on inventory and this has a period of about 4-5 years. The second cycle which is the Juglar cycle is based on capital expenditure that rises and falls and this can have a period of about 9 years. The longest cycle or the Kurznet's Cycle and can run as long as 18 years. 

To complicate matters even further there is a rumoured Kondratieff cycle that runs for half a century.

If you take this idea seriously, it would be very challenging to break the actual cycle into different phases. But it can be rewarding because avoiding a property crash is probably the aim of all serious investors.

b) There is no consensus over what measurement to use within a cycle

The next problem is to figure out which metrics can be used to trace a cycle. High rental rates may discourage inventory and not all inventory plays a large role. Somehow vehicle inventories play a larger role in determining this cycle. 

The same applies to capital spending cycles, there is a theory that shipbuilding rates play a big role and some ratios involving CAPEX in the local economy needs to be factored in as well. 

Property prices also involve complex metrics like building a ratio of CAP rate to bond yields. 

If I want to engineer my own business cycle, will need to gather data and build my own index. 

c) After you have engineered what seems to be a business cycle time series, it must be able to predict asset price trends based on historical data

Once you can start modelling a business cycle, it must be able to predict asset prices. It should ideally be able to lead asset price trends by a few months. 

If a business cycle trend is built, ideally it should be able to predict the downwards trend in stocks when it begins to decline from its peak. Whether this works or not can be covered by a regression exercise or any machine learning tool. 

These are all fairly tough problems, but I think the book has given confidence that coming up with a business cycle using local data is not impossible. I'm pretty sure some econometrics major would have already succeeded in this endeavour. You may wish to take inspiration from the RICI index developed by Jim Rogers.

It may be a while before I can digest enough to make an impact on future training materials. 

I will update this blog on Saturday evening when my program concludes.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Are polyamorous relationships financially inevitable in Singapore?

The Rice Media has a really good article on polyamory lately. You can visit the link here.

I was really entertained by the article but this was not my first exposure to polyamory in Singapore. 

My first exposure was with someone I met while getting my Bar exams. This girl who worked along with me on an assignment claimed to be polyamorous and it triggered an interesting conversation. She said she's dating two men, sometimes simultaneously. One man is about her age in his twenties and another guy is an uncle who is much older like me. I remember my first reaction was not to judge her. In fact, I asked her how she coped with jealousy which I thought was built into the male psyche. She said there was none and in triple dates, the uncle even pays for the young guy.

As I'm a lot more interested in the numbers, I tried to decode the relationship at that time. I thought the uncle was the guy who provided the bankroll for a young couple and, in return, maybe gets to take part in the action.  This is not the kind of 3P a guy would be able to accept conventionally.

The fact is that thanks to the pandemic, not everyone is entitled to the same economic outcomes based on the effort they put into their careers. A software developer is almost untouched by the pandemic, but an artistic performer probably has 80% of income wiped out. This means that a certain segment will thrive with an unusual amount of savings in investments and some will end up depleted.

If we focus on real estate, we can be looking at low-interest rates and delayed buildup of BTO homes, all recipes for a spike in real estate prices. Landlords will take this opportunity to increase rents.

As such polyamory can supplant a traditional marriage from the finance space. 

a) Polyamory solves the problem of expensive real estate prices.

Polyamorous folks can buy larger flat and participate in the upside but as tenants in common as opposed to joint owners. This preserves their rights and lets them benefit from higher real estate prices. If six people buy a jumbo flat, the mortgages may be manageable using CPF-OA for each person. 

b) Polyamory reduces daily expenses

Polyamorous folks gain massive benefits from economies of scale. They can easily participate in the group buy arrangements and buy in bulk from warehouses. I studied some statistics and household expenses per head go down by quite a bit as the numbers of members of the household increase.

c) Polyamory reduces housework

Polyamorous folks get benefits in childcare. As these groups are large, not everyone can contribute to the household financially so some can volunteer their time to raise the kids. This is not a new thing. Before the Church dismantled polygamous families, some women want to join a clan because their share of the housework and child-rearing is shared with other women. For a similar reason, the men may find it easier to hunt in a pack. 

Polyamory is the disruptive technology that can upend traditional families as it is really tiring to manage multi-generational households from a financial perspective in a city. I predict that early adopters may slant towards those with contract jobs and creative artistic pursuits. 

I also realise that the question in my title is not answered. 

My expectation is that Gen Z will surprise everyone with how open-minded they are. If they can normalise something like cryptocurrency, incorporating polyamory would be a cinch.


Thursday, June 03, 2021

I made some videos on the Dr Wealth Youtube Channel


I'm still busy as heck doing previews and prepping for another class next week. 

Last week was a major milestone as Dr Wealth is trying to get more trainers featured on their Youtube Channel. You can subscribe by following this link here.

Here's the first one I've done for them. I've also produced about two more which I hope, will be out very soon. 

There should be some content here for you guys over the weekend. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The one with the Friends: The Reunion episode


There's a lot of serious material coming out from me on the Dr Wealth blog so I prefer to do something more frivolous for the weekend. Incidentally,  this week is also the launch of the Friends: The Reunion episode. I just want to share my thoughts about how the series shaped Generation X today. 

In case you are Gen Z and have no idea what Friends is all about. Friends is the most successful sitcom of all time having sustained itself for 10 years across 10 seasons. It revolves around the lives of six good-looking Gen-Xer as they navigate through that period of time just before they start their families. Sadly there is no real equivalent for Gen Z, because, in their mid-20s, Gen Z is still living in their parent's basement subscribing to OnlyFans and trading shitcoins to make their first million. Also, any show about six good-looking heterosexual whites adults would induce too much woke rage in society today.

I only have one point to make today about my philosophy of reunions - Reunions are about seeing how old our contemporaries are these days.

I love reunions because I hardly enough of them. 

I don't come from the elite schools that find ways to get alumni back for donation drives so I have to wait for someone charismatic to organise one for the cohort by tuning into my secondary school  Whatsapp group. I know that I'm not the only person who enjoys this - some of my forever alone friends love stalking the beautiful classmates of their secondary school days and derive a lot of joy at seeing how old and "chui" they are. 

Like the cast of Friends, Gen X is longer young and hip. If anyone is successful it would already be obvious when there is a reunion. 

So the central theme of every reunion to me is Schadenfreude

Questions like these abound:

  • Did the class scholar end up being forever alone? 
  • Did the school flower become an auntie? 
  • What power relationships form between males in a reunion, is the guy with the loudest mouth the wealthiest in the batch?
  • Do soccer hooligans stay soccer hooligans? (That would be a yes in my book. )
Because I was largely misunderstood as a (very cruel) jester, outcast and troll, I can take a detached perspective when I meet my classmates.

As such Friends: The Reunion allows a second-tier B-Grade Singaporean like me who cannot attend an old boys donation drive of RI, HC or ACS some measure of vicarious schadenfreude

Thanks to the miracle of aesthetic medicine, all the women look as young as before. I would say that I can't even see any change in Monica.  

But the true satisfaction for any Gen X pot-bellied uncle like me is to see Joey with a head full of grey hair and a middle-aged paunch. Another thing I enjoyed is that Chandler is no longer full of witty comebacks. Matthew Perry's just not that good without his script! For me, there is a certain sense of Karmic justice as Ross seems to have the most dignity when it comes to ageing. I used to get so mad because Ross gets bullied a lot despite being the smartest and well-educated guy in the clique. 

Some points I really like are the high-powered cameos and the show really exceeded my expectations in the graceful way a reference was made on Brad Pitt. 

Now all I hope is that my secondary school friends don't disinvite me to the next class reunion.